The announcement of the Rawlings Gold Glove awards warranted its own special on ESPN last week. A night later, MLB Network had a special for the announcement of the Silver Slugger awards.
And now it is time to announce the prestigious Third Annual Baseball Prospectus On The Beat All-MLB Team for 2011.
However, we have no national television platform from which to announce our team. If we're lucky, Jeff Joyce will give it a mention on Sirius/XM Radio's MLB Network Radio channel. After all, an All-MLB team was originally his idea, and I admittedly stole it in the belief that baseball should have its own end-of-season All-Star team similar to the NFL and its All-Pro team.
So while we wait for one of the networks to latch on to this great idea, we'll present the BPOTB All-MLB team the old-fashioned way—via the written word:
First baseman–Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. He won two-thirds of the triple-slash triple crown in leading the major leagues with a .344 batting average and a .448 on-base percentage, while his .586 slugging percentage tied for third. His season looked even stronger in light of its inglorious beginning, when Cabrera missed the start of spring training following a drunken driving arrest in Florida.
Second baseman–Robinson Cano, Yankees. There are some in the New York media who insist that Cano is the best player in the game. That might be a bit of a stretch, but he deserves at least to be on the periphery of the conversation. Cano had another outstanding year, with a .302/.349/.533 slash line and a victory at the All-Star Home Run Derby, in which he belted a bunch of fat pitches from his father Jose, a former Astros reliever, to all reaches of Chase Field in Phoenix.
Third baseman–Evan Longoria, Rays. He had the biggest hit of the regular season–on the final day, no less–as his home run leading off the bottom of the 12th inning rallied the Rays from a 7-0 deficit to an 8-7 victory over the Yankees and clinched the American League wild card. Longoria’s resurgence after a slow start was a big reason why the Rays were able to overcome a nine-game deficit to the Red Sox in September in the wild-card chase. Longoria hit just .244, but he made up for the low batting average with a .355 OBP, a .495 SLG, and his usual strong defense.
Shortstop-Jose Reyes, Mets. Healthy for a change, he showed what he could do with two good legs as he hit .337/.384/.493 and topped all major-league shortstops with 6.1 WARP. Troy Tulowitzki is acknowledged to be the best shortstop in the game, but 2011 was Reyes' time to shine. The timing couldn't be better, as he hit the free agent market last week, looking for an eight-figure contract.
Catcher-Alex Avila, Tigers. The Rangers' Mike Napoli received plenty of well-deserved publicity in the postseason, but no catcher had a better year than Avila, especially since he was an ironman while having a strong offensive season and masterfully handling the pitching staff. He started 130 games behind the plate yet was able to hit .295/.389/.506 and lead all major-league catchers with 6.4 WARP.
Left Fielder–Ryan Braun, Brewers. He just keeps putting up one big season after another, hitting .332/.397/.597 in 2011 while finishing seventh in the majors in WARP with 6.9. He and Prince Fielder have been quite the dynamic duo for the Brewers, and it will interesting to see what effect it will have on Braun next year if, as expected, Fielder leaves via free agency.
Center fielder–Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox. This was the toughest of all positions to choose, because I think Ellsbury should be the AL Most Valuable Player and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp should win the National League's MVP award. Ellsbury hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases, while Kemp batted .324/.399/.586 with 39 homers and 40 steals. Kemp held the edge in BVORP, 85.8-73.5, but Ellsbury had a better WARP, 9.1-8.2 In the end, defense—and Fielding Runs Above Average, in particular–swung the debate to Ellsbury, as he led all center fielders with an 11.6 mark while Kemp was below average at -7.9, ranking 16th in the majors. We could argue this one forever and not have a wrong answer.
Right fielder–Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. Conversely, this was the easiest position to pick, as Bautista led the major leagues with 10.3 WARP and 86.4 VORP. He also had a .302/.447/.608 slash line, leading the majors in SLG and also home runs for the second straight season as he hit 43. So much for the school of thought that his 2010 breakout was a fluke.
Designated hitter–David Ortiz, Red Sox. While the Red Sox win the Choking Dogs Award for 2011 by a narrow margin over the Braves, Big Papi can't be blamed for their late-season collapse. He had a fine season, as he hit .309/.398/.554.
Right-handed starting pitcher–Justin Verlander, Tigers. Yes, yes, yes, I know wins don't matter for a pitcher anymore, but 24 victories in one season still stands out, even in this sabermetrically enlightened era. The advanced metrics backed up what a special year it was for Verlander, as his 62.5 PVORP led the majors and his 7.0 WARP was tied for fourth among all players.
Left-handed starting pitcher–Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. WARP rated Kershaw as Verlander's equal in 2011, as he also had a 7.0 mark while going 21-5 on a team that had to make a late rush to finish over .500. Kershaw also placed third with 56.9 PVORP, behind Verlander and Phillies lefty Cliff Lee (57.2).
Right-handed relief pitcher-Craig Kimbrel, Braves. The flame-throwing 23-year-old rookie topped all relievers with 20.4 PVORP and 2.2 WARP. He also recorded 46 saves and struck out 127 batters in 77 innings. To be considered for the team, relievers must have not started a game and had to pitch at least 60 innings.
Left-handed relief pitcher–Sean Marshall, Cubs. Who said the Cubs' season was a complete disaster? Marshall had 1.6 WARP, 14.7 VORP, and an outstanding 1.83 FIP in 75 2/3 innings. He was a reliable set-up man for Carlos Marmol, an unreliable closer.